Edinburgh saunas: Viagra and santa claus suit found

Secret report presented to councillors lifts lid on exactly what police found during series of raids on city saunas. Picture: Toby Williams
Secret report presented to councillors lifts lid on exactly what police found during series of raids on city saunas. Picture: Toby Williams
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THOUSANDS of condoms, a Santa Claus suit and doctors’ and nurses’ outfits were among the items discovered by police when they carried out a series of raids on city saunas.

They also found stocks of Viagra, sex toys and, in at least one place, pornography being streamed into the rooms.

Six premises – almost half of Edinburgh’s 13 saunas – have had their licences suspended by councillors at the request of police following the raids last month. But all are expected to appeal against the decision and will therefore be allowed to stay open in the meantime.

The secret report presented to the city council’s regulatory committee on Wednesday detailed how during the raids at some of the saunas police found scantily-clad women in rooms with men wearing only a towel.

But the evidence in relation to some other saunas is understood to have been more “circumstantial” – sex toys and large numbers of condoms on the premises and Viagra stored in offices. A council source said as many as 7000 condoms were found in one establishment and described some of the exchanges at the committee as bordering on farce.

Our insider said: “It all skirted round whether sexual activity was taking place or not.

“The reports talked about the number of condoms found in the various establishments – anything from 350 to 7000.

“The solicitor acting for the sauna with 7000 argued there was nothing illegal in that and claimed the sauna guys didn’t know why they had been delivered. One of the councillors asked if such large-scale deliveries could be made to any address.

“There were Santa Claus outfits, doctors’ and nurses’ outfits, pornography streamed into each room. But the sauna bosses claimed the girls were not employees, they just hired a room and the sauna guys didn’t know what went on.

“The whole thing was ridiculous. In some massage parlours there was no massage table, in others the sauna equipment didn’t work.”

The raids last month, involving 150 police officers, were seen by critics as signalling a move away from Edinburgh’s traditionally more tolerant attitude towards the sex industry.

But police have repeatedly denied there has been a change of policy on saunas.

And today other council insiders said there was no indication police were about to ask for the city’s other seven saunas to be closed as well.

They claimed the police had targeted the saunas concerned – none of which have been officially named – because of suspicions they could be involved in other criminal activities. There was no agenda to close all of the city’s saunas, the Evening News was told.

A second highly placed source said: “The police seem to believe these saunas are a front for other criminal behaviour such as drug dealing.

“They’re closing down half of these places, but it’s difficult to believe the other half are pure and simple saunas.

“The police don’t want to close them all, but they are using it as a way of unpicking organised crime.” Seven individuals linked to the saunas have been arrested and charged in connection with brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings.

The insider added: “Criminal cases could take up to two years to come to court, while the appeals are likely to be dealt with more quickly.”

But the well-positioned council source said the police had put the committee in a difficult position after the city’s adherance to a “there’s nothing to see here” stance for years.

“For all these years the committee has been told to turn a blind eye. Police reports have always said there was nothing happening in these places and the committee has had to accept that, even if they assumed things were happening.

“Now suddenly the police say there is sexual activity going on in these places.”

The source said that, knowing the saunas would appeal against any suspension of their licence and that they would be allowed to continue operating while awaiting an appeal hearing, the committee effectively agreed to allow the courts to decide what their future should be.

“The police have passed the buck to the committee but the committee is passing it on to the court.”

The source said the committee was divided roughly 50-50 on whether to stick with the pragmatic approach or to crack down on sex-for-sale.

“Some don’t like the whole idea of saunas, but others believe the women are safer operating indoors than on the streets and see this as heavy-handed ‘Glasgow tactics’, Strathclyde police showing who’s in charge.

“There is probably a power struggle among the police themselves, between the ex-Strathclyde lot and the old Lothian and Borders people over whether this is a zero tolerance approach or a blind eye.”

Another council insider said the committee had had no choice but to suspend the licences because of the evidence presented by the police.

“No-one is particularly pleased about the way this has happened, but there was very little option for the committee.” The insider said it seemed clear the police action had been prompted by concerns over other criminal activities. I suspect everyone involved knows this is not about living off immoral earnings.”

‘No change to policing of prostitution’

POLICE chiefs insist they are not trying to close down the city’s 13 saunas.

But it is understood officers will target saunas involved in any kind of criminality, including living off immoral earnings or brothel keeping, if evidence is found.

Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said: “We regularly conduct visits and checks to ensure premises are adhering to the terms of their licences. The recent visits were based on local intelligence gathering over several months and a continued commitment to ensuring premises are not putting the public at risk. There has been no change in the way we police prostitution in Edinburgh and our focus remains on keeping people safe and tackling criminality whenever possible.”